July 15, 2017 10:28:46 PM
HOOVER, Ala. -- The three-time reigning champion Alabama football team was picked Friday to win the Southeastern Conference title again in a preseason media poll.
Alabama was the preseason choice of 217 of the 243 people who cast ballots at this week's SEC Media Days. The only other school to receive as many as 10 votes was Auburn with 11.
The predicted order of finish in the Western Division was Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss.
Georgia's the favorite in the Eastern Division. Following Georgia in order were Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Missouri.
The media have correctly picked the SEC champion two of the last three years, but only four times in the last 20 years.
Alabama also had a record 10 first-team picks on the media's preseason All-SEC team.
Individually, the media selected MSU junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and senior offensive lineman Martinas Rankin to its preseason All-SEC team. Fitzgerald was named to the second team, finishing behind Alabama's Jalen Hurts in the voting but ahead of Arkansas' Austin Allen on the third team. It is the third time in the Dan Mullen era a MSU quarterback has been honored as such. Former quarterback Dak Prescott earned preseason honors from the media twice.
Fitzgerald broke nine school records last season. He also set two SEC records while leading the conference in total offense at 3,798 yards. His eight 100-yard rushing performances last season were the most by a quarterback in SEC history, and he also broke the SEC record for a signal caller with an average of 7.1 yards per rush.
Fitzgerald was twice named SEC co-Offensive Player of the Week during the year. He capped his stellar sophomore season earning MVP honors in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Through one season as the Bulldogs' full-time starter, Fitzgerald is fifth in school history with 43 touchdowns.
Rankin was MSU's most dominant offensive lineman last season, playing a total of 857 snaps.
Rankin also was named to the second-team offensive line. He was rated as the second-best tackle prospect in the upcoming 2018 NFL draft by CBS Sports, but he practiced at center in the spring due to multiple injuries in the position group. Mullen said Rankin is unlikely to start at center in the regular season.
Rankin came to MSU as the nation's top rated junior college offensive lineman in 2015, but he redshirted in his first year on campus. He earned 10 starts last season and played in all 13 of the Bulldogs' games in 2016.
Ole Miss had four players -- senior defensive end Marquis Haynes (first team defense), sophomore Greg Little and junior Javon Patterson (third-team picks on the offensive line), and senior kicker Gary Wunderlich (third team) -- named to the preseason All-SEC team.
Haynes, a two-time All-SEC pick as a sophomore and junior, is third in school history with 24 1/2 sacks and fourth with 36 1/2 tackles for loss. He has led the Rebels in sacks all three years (seven-and-a-half in 2014, 10 in 2015, seven in 2016). He has been named to watch lists for the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy, which go to the nation's best defensive player. He is a third-team preseason All-America pick by Athlon and rated the No. 4 defensive end in the country by Lindy's.
Little played in every game last season and made five starts at left tackle as a freshman last year. He earned Freshman All-America honors from Rivals.com, and was named to the SEC's All-Freshman team.
Patterson was the only Rebel offensive lineman to start every game, earning the nod nine times at left guard and three at center.
The nation's most accurate kicker in 2016, Wunderlich has been named to the Lou Groza Award watch list and preseason All-America teams by Lindy's (second team) and Athlon (third team). Last season, he made 22 of 23 field goals for a SEC-record 95.7 percent success rate.
Alabama had a league-high 16 players, includes an SEC-record 10 first-team honorees and three second- and third-team selections, to the preseason team.
The 10 first-team selections includes four players on offense, five on defense, and one specialist. The record number surpasses the previous high of nine first-team honorees from one school set by Alabama in 2011. Juniors Jalen Hurts (quarterback), Calvin Ridley (wide receiver), and Ross Pierschbacher (offensive lineman) and sophomore offensive lineman Jonah Williams were selected on offense, while junior defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne, senior defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand, senior linebacker Rashaan Evans, and junior defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison were named to the defensive first team. Senior punter JK Scott rounds out the first-team selections for the Crimson Tide. Fitzpatrick and Ridley were among the three players who tied for top vote-getter honors.
Senior center Bradley Bozeman, junior running back Bo Scarbrough and senior linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton were named to the second team. Junior offensive lineman Lester Cotton and senior defensive backs Anthony Averett and Tony Brown were named to the third team.
Hurts threw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns in his debut campaign, while Scarbrough capped his 2016 season with 364 yards and six touchdowns in his final three games.
Ridley is Alabama's leading returning receiver with 769 yards and seven touchdowns a season ago. Bozeman, Pierschbacher, Williams, and Cotton return from an offensive line that cleared the way for an offense that led the SEC in scoring at 38.8 points per game in 2016.
Fitzpatrick owns the Alabama career record for interception returns for touchdowns (four). Harrison is the Tide's leading returning tackler with 86 stops as a sophomore, while Averett led the team in pass breakups (eight). Brown had 32 tackles in 11 games last season.
Payne and Hand combined for 57 stops on the defensive front in 2016.
Hamilton and Evans are the top returning tacklers among the Tide linebackers with 64 and 53, respectively.
Scott averaged 47.2 yards per punt as a junior with 25 boots of 50 yards or more.
n Also Friday, Fitzpatrick and Harrison were named to the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List. They are among 45 defensive backs from around the country named to the preseason list.
Antonio Langham won the award for Alabama in 1993. He is the Crimson Tide's lone winner.